This spring, Musical Theatre Repertory (MTR) prepares to bring another "Perfectly Marvelous" production to the stage: Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall's 1998 version of "Cabaret." Come March 22nd, the Massman Theatre will be transformed into the Kit Kat Klub, and audiences will be whisked away to 1931 Berlin, during the rise of Nazi power in Germany.
With visually captivating crowd pleasers such as "Mein Herr," and "Two Ladies," a major pull of "Cabaret" is its dance numbers. Sensual and gritty, these numbers play a huge part in creating the world of the show and the Kit Kat Klub's atmosphere of frivolity.
Sophie Thomason, who has taken on the challenge of choreographing this dance-heavy show, gives us the inside scoop on what it takes to bring a show like "Cabaret" to life.
What is your process for choreographing a dance?
I'll choreograph a first draft of a dance by visualizing rather than doing. I listen to a song until I can start to visualize movement consistent with my motifs and the song's lyrics. I try to workshop my choreo before bringing it into the rehearsal room to make sure it works just as well on its feet as it does on paper. And of course, once it's placed on the dancers, I tend to make a fair share of tweaks.
How much of the choreography is from the original production, and how much is original to this production?
It's all original! That being said, several numbers pay homage to both the 1993 West End production and the 1972 film, choreographed by Bob Fosse. I recycled some of my favorite movements from those productions, but most everything else is specific to ours.
Where do you get your inspiration? Which choreographers or dancers?
I always go back to the greats: Bob Fosse, Michael Bennett, Gene Kelly, so on. I'm greatly inspired by the physical inventiveness of the first two men, and by the third's use of space and props. I'm sure I pull from the lineage of dance teachers and choreographers I've worked with personally, too.
How much collaborating goes on with the director? The dancers?
Before I choreograph anything, I'll have a sit down with the director to get a solid feel for the vision. We'll make sure that we have aligning ideas for each number, and introduce any specific moments the numbers need to incorporate. Any collaboration with the dancers happens in the rehearsal room – I always love hearing out the cast's ideas. There are several instances in "Cabaret" where I built choreography around the unique talents of the dancers, especially in "Willkommen."
Which dances are you most excited for people to see?
Tough question! Every number is so different. "Willkommen" certainly starts the show off with a bang. "Two Ladies" is hysterical.
Is there anything else you want people to know about your experience working on this production?
A lot of this choreography has been sitting idly on my desktop for two years— I was set to choreograph "Cabaret" with MTR my sophomore year, but the rights fell through. I'm thrilled it's now gone to use with such a wonderful bunch of performers. This is the fifth show I've choreographed at USC, and I've never experienced a smoother process. Extra special thanks to Tristan McIntyre, who helped me workshop the choreo before rehearsals began, and who has choreographed a killer kick line number at the top of Act II!
"Cabaret" will be playing March 22nd-25th in the Massman Theatre. There is a recommended $5 donation at the door. For updates on tickets and shows, visit http://www.uscmtr.com